Sunday, January 31, 2010

31-derful Days!

I made it to a morning class today! It was taught by N, and since she usually teaches in the morning, I haven't been in one of her classes in a long long time. She's a good, solid teacher and seems to be loved by all. It was nice to be her class again.

The air was thick as pea soup today, humid, humid, humid. N left the fans off until tree pose. The studio's fans don't really blow air, but they seem to help circulate the air a bit and reduce the humidity. I was short of breath, gasping for air throughout a good portion of standing series. It was a struggle!

I'm still experimenting with my water intake. If I stop and think about it, I am almost never thirsty at party time, so I try not to drink then, and it's easy not to. Sometimes I want to drink water before our 2 minute savasana, but I am often able to do without then as well. The pause at fixed firm post is what always gets me. By then, I am usually thirsty, but knowing that camel pose is coming up soon sometimes dissuades me from having more than a sip. Camel often makes me nauseated, especially if I drink cold water. If I don't consciously limit my water intake at fixed firm, I can guzzle down half a liter then!

I've been toting around my old red 1 liter Sigg bottle since I came back to yoga in October 2008. It has been dropped a lot, fallen off the bottle rack of my bicycle, and was accidentally stepped on by a big man. It's got chpped paint and a big dent in it. When I came back to yoga, I pretty much consumed the entire liter of water during each and every class. Well, a couple of weeks ago, I lost the old Sigg. All of my other water bottles hold a smaller volume of water. So there will never be another Whole Liter During Class day for me!

I hope to one day have a hot, sweaty class where I don't drink a single sip of water. I want to do that before the challenge is over.

Another thought about water: At one of the first Bikram classes I ever took, a student complained that his water was too warm to drink, since it was in the hot room with him. Our teacher said, "Actually, it is better for you to drink warm water. Cold water is hard on your kidneys." I don't know about that, but I do know that I have almost always been a tad averse to cold, icy beverages, even in the summer. Room temperature water doesn't make me feel sick during yoga the same way that cold water does. I always see people in class with big bottles filled mostly with ice, and it seems weird to me.

When I am trying to hydrate at home before and after class, one thing I enjoy are warm herb 'teas' (tisanes or infusions of herbs). They are easier for me to drink on cold days, and there are a lot of herbs that can help replenish minerals. Ginger has magnesium and potassium, and it's commonly used to aid digestion and treat's the perfect herb tea for me.

Well, 31 days of of the challenge done, 70 days to go, and it is feeling pretty wonderful. I'm so glad we're doing this!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

30 Days!

Yea! We made it to Day 30! This is a first for me, and I can't wait to reach the next milestone in this challenge.

I had a lovely class tonight. The fierce and feared instructor taught us tonight, and I did my best to avoid attracting attention. Ms F doesn't let us get away with resting out postures unless we are truly unable to do them. She calls out sandbaggers. Luckily, I felt strong enough to do all of the postures. I didn't have my best day at standing head to knee or standing bow pulling pose, but it was, by and large, a good class. Bow pose on the floor went better today--good alignment--and I got my heels together in half-tortoise without suffering foot cramps.

Sleepy now, and in a good way. I'm about to crawl into bed and dream good yoga dreams so that I can practice well tomorrow. G'night!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Weight, Weight, Don't Tell Me

I've been secretly hoping that the Bikram Challenge would help me lose 5 or 10 pounds. I am slightly reluctant to admit to all of this, as I would rather be a noble yogini who practices for greater health and deeper connections between mind, body, and spirit. But I am distracted by vanity and the desire to fit into my skinny jeans.

Roughly 3-3 1/2 years ago, I weighed about 15 lbs. less than I do now. When I began a regular Bikram yoga practice (3-5X/wk for about 6-7 months), I actually gained 3 or 4 lbs, but I simultaneously lost a full 3 inches from my hips and firmed up all over. Over the next 2 years, I stopped going to yoga and my life became increasingly stressful. I didn't take very good care of myself, and I gradually put on nearly 20 lbs. In October 2008, when I came back to yoga, I lost about 5 lbs very quickly. Then another 4 lbs gradually dropped off over the course of a year. The rest of my stress weight clings stubbornly.

I'm eating healthy whole foods, a balanced diet, but I just go with the flow of my cravings and hunger. Other than avoiding sugar, processed foods, and junk foods, I don't really restrict my diet. I guess I eat a lot; my friends comment about my hollow leg, and I seem to quite comfortably put away as much food as my 200lb. boyfriend does. So maybe I need to start watching portion size if I'm serious about losing weight, but...I'm not sure that I'm that serious yet. I've just been hoping that yoga would burn away a little weight, and that yoga would adjust my cravings and appetite enough to cause a little more weight reduction.

Sometimes yoga dampens my appetite and seems to make junk food very unappealing. Sometimes yoga makes me crave kale and other leafy greens. Sometimes I crave protein in any form. I had a pickle binge last week. I am just trusting my body to tell me what it needs.

So on Day 1 of the Challenge, I weighed and measured myself. In 29 days, I have lost about 2 lbs. My waist is 3/4 inch smaller, and my hips are an inch and a half smaller. Practicing yoga on consecutive days keeps my metabolism humming right along. I don't know if this reducing trend will continue, but it's nice to see some results pretty quickly.

In other news, I practiced in the front row tonight. It was a pretty good class. I focused on being gentle with myself and putting more ease into my postures. Lost my alignment with Bow Pose again and had knee pain, but everything else was just fine. I can't claim to enjoy camel at all, but it was good tonight. I am getting into the posture with more depth and less strain. It always feels so wonderful to notice an improvement in a posture.

Tomorrow is 30 days...I've never made it to 30 consecutive days before! I'm chuffed!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Be nice!

Bah! Tonight's class was one of my most difficult, maybe the hardest so far in this challenge. I was low on energy and felt nauseated for most of the class. I sat out several postures. I am not gonna beat myself up about it, but it is a bit disappointing.

Tonight's class was taught by J, the comic book/cartoon fan, and during savasana, he gave us a little pep talk that I loved. He said, "Sometimes we try to tell our bodies what to do, and maybe we aren't so nice. If you order it, like, (mean, gruff voice) 'Do this posture better!' , your body might get scared and respond like, (timid voice) 'Oh, no, I...I don't think I can.' . So maybe what you should do is just invite your body to do something differently, or just ask it nicely. When people ask me nicely to do something, I always want to try."

J's funny voices and the sweetness of his little lesson made me smile. And it struck a chord with me--I have definitely been that person in class who is grimacing and tensely trying to force my body into a deeper expression of a posture, forgetting all about breath, ease, and grace. I've been impatient and critical with myself, and sometimes very unrealistic. I'm supposed to be looking into the eyes of my own best teacher there at class. I ought to at least be nice to her, eh?


I don't know the reason for it, but I am thoroughly exhausted.

I ended up loving class on Tuesday. I ate a very healthy dinner, did some reading, and went to bed early. I slept about 10 hours and just couldn't seem to wake up at all on Wednesday. I taught at the senior living place and went to a 4:30 PM Bikram class. It was not my best class, but not terrible. I found myself a bit out of breath and just tired afterward. Waiting in line for the showers, other regular students pronounced the class, "Brutal" and "Too hot." I can't tell what's hot or not anymore. I used to always feel too hot, no matter what, and now I just can't tell unless it's extra extra extra extremely different than normal.

Last night, again, I hit the hay early, and I slept like a slightly achy log for almost 11 hours. I dreamed about yoga all night: I dreamed that old friends from other places that I've lived were all in yoga classes with me. I dreamed about one of my favorite teachers, who is leaving our studio. I dreamed I was taking classes with him in a strange new studio.

I'm sure that I must need the extra rest, for whatever reason, in order to work out some issue or another, but I'm hoping that the groggy sleepy days are coming to an end soon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Some changes...

We're about a quarter of the way there now! It's feeling pretty good to me.

Yesterday, I attended a class taught by a teacher who is sometimes feared in these parts. She is known for being really tough on students, demanding that they try harder. We had only about 15 people in class, so the potential to be "picked on" seemed high. I was apprehensive, but it was an amazing class. Teacher was pushing us, but it felt completely positive.

I wonder if she has changed, or if I have changed how I perceive her. She gave me very specific individual instructions to improve camel pose, and while it was a struggle, a challenge for me, it really helped. I remember a long ago class where this same teacher criticized me in fixed-firm pose, and it made me so discouraged that I sat out the next couple of postures. My teacher may have softened the edges of her instruction a bit, but I think that more yoga, a stronger practice, has cleared my mind a little. Some of the self-doubt, pessimism, and self-consciousness is being swept away. It's such a gradual process, what yoga does to the mind, that you don't even realize it's happening...then suddenly, you are able to accept things differently, for the better.

This evening, I attended a hot, humid, packed in like sardines class with several first-timers. I'd had a slightly crappy day and didn't really feel like going to yoga. Class really lifted my spirits. Once I got there, I realized that I felt very well, physically. I was properly hydrated, rested, and had taken my supplements. Some days, when I walk into the studio, it feels oppressively hot. Some days, it feels good, like, "Ah, back where I belong!" It felt like "Ah!" today. I think this was one of those group energy was just a good strong class.

Prior to this 101 Challenge, Bikram Yoga classes often felt like the longest 90 minutes ever. I worried that they might seem even more so if I went to class every day. Instead, I find that classes mostly seem to fly by faster each day!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Toes and Heels Touching

Apologies to Action JoJo if she ever reads this, but my topic today is FEET!

We had a little group therapy session after Bikram yoga class tonight, sharing about issues with our feet. Feet are also discussed at my senior citizens' gentle yoga classes. Our feet do a lot of work for us, and we often ignore them completely unless they start complaining.

I am reminded of a memoir I read long ago: The author's widowed mother used to come home from long hard days of work and soak her feet in a basin with epsom salts. Then she would dry them off and give them a good massage, saying, "Thank you, Feet, for carrying me through another day."

In the fitness and gentle yoga classes for seniors/elders that I teach, I find that many older people have really very literally lost touch with their feet. If injuries or arthritis cause stiffness or pain, some folks become increasingly inactive and immobile. If bending or reaching down to tie a shoe becomes difficult, they try to avoid it as much as possible. Flexing and pointing the foot, or rotating the ankle is often a challenge for otherwise fit seniors. I've been noticing how many people--not just the elderly--walk with stiff ankles or slap an entire foot down instead of letting the ankles and feet use some of their range of motion.

It's heart-breaking to see how much balance and quality of life can suffer from having problems with one's feet. Balance is so important. One of the top fears that elders have is the fear of falling down and getting hurt. We work on range of motion all over the body, but balancing exercises (not quite as challenging as the ones in Bikram's series) are a central part of the classes. Just as Bikram always says, "It's never too late, you're never too old..." A good sense of balance can be regained, improved, developed--no matter how old or unsteady you are. I've seen it with my own eyes; balance can be improved very quickly.

People don't always feel comfortable doing this, because many are just uncomfortable with their feet, but I also have students in my classes try a sort of modified, seated half-lotus, and I ask them to wiggle their toes, flex the foot, and then give it a good massage. Sedentary people usually need better circulation in their feet, and massage is good for that. Plus, feet just deserve a little attention and thanks.

Several fellow Bikram yoga students and I have all been experiencing cramping in our feet lately. We all have our own theories about the causes, but I think for most of us it is a combination of a bit of mineral depletion and a lot of realignment happening. We are all people who practice 5 or more times/week, and I think that regular practice gradually pulls every single bit of us closer to perfect alignment.

The bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the feet are kind of intricate, really, and just think of all that they do, carrying the entire weight of our bodies every time we stand or walk or run. In our standing series, in order to balance properly, our feet do some hard work. Sonya (my 101 Challenge buddy) has had fallen arches forever, but distributing the weight evenly all over the standing foot is starting to make those arches lift right up. They want to be where they're supposed to be! My bunion foot cramps around the toes because my big toe is gradually moving back to its rightful, original place, and the muscles of the rest of the toes are working differently to compensate. My arches feel a twinge when I try to pull my heels together in half-tortoise.

Cramps in your feet can be very painful, and they are no fun at all, but I'm really happy to be experiencing them, because it's part of the process of improving alignment, helping me build a firm foundation. I'm going to take pains to try to keep my body supplied with enough minerals and stay well-hydrated to try to prevent cramping as much as I can, give myself a little foot massage from time to time, and I think it'll all work itself out. There's usually at least a tiny twinge of pain with any worthwhile change. And I'm gonna thank my feet for carrying me through another day and another Bikram yoga class.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Whatever you do, do it good!

Yea! Day 21 feels like a mini-milestone to me. I'm giddy right now, just home from the last evening class. It was a long and busy day, and I am running on very little sleep. I was oh-so-tempted to skip out on yoga today, felt very nervous about going to class when I was so sleep-deprived and grumpy, but it was a great class, and I cannot freaking believe that I feel so good right now! This yoga just keeps amazing me.

I've been cutting down my coffee consumption a lot lately; I just don't seem to be craving it the way I usually do. I drank some pu-ehr tea for a pick-me-up this afternoon and drank plenty of water with some Emergen-C too. I was almost late for class--got in the room just as pranayama was starting. It was packed! People had to move mats to make room for me, and were cheek by jowl for 90 minutes.

I'm not gonna lie: I got very very light-headed & dizzy in standing series and sat out second set of bow-pulling pose. There was a moment there that felt very unsteady, and while I feel a little wimpy for copping out, I think it was justified. Maybe. In a way.

Oh, I don't know!

Anyway, my standing head-to-knee pose doesn't look all that great, but it sure feels good! I am overjoyed on days like today when I ease into the kick slowly and smoothly and am able to hold on, keep kicking out, and stay still. No wobbles (well, not as many) and no straining. It feels like I am finally on the right track with this posture! It feels so good to be making noticeable improvements in asana. Prior to the challenge, my practice had become rather stagnant, and it had been a while since I'd felt real progress happening.

I love my teachers. My class tonight was taught by this sweet, funny guy who has worked on some famous animated films. He is a bit of a comic book geek and always has interesting and silly things to say, often throwing in some tale or joke from a cartoon series or comic book. He always makes us laugh or at least smile.

Tonight, as we lay in savasana, he said, "Pay attention to your expression," and then he began singing! He was slightly off-key the whole time, and the song went:

It's not what you look like when you do what you're doin'
It's what you're doin' when you're doin' what you look like you're doin'
Express yourself!
Express yourself!

I googled this song when I got home, and it's by Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd St. Band.
I'm a little dorky, but I really like it as a yoga-song-in-my-head:

Do it!
Go on & do it!
Yo, do it,
Whatever you do, do it good!
Whatever you do, do it good!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

In sickness and in health, I am commited to this practice.

I got sick yesterday: felt a bit like an allergy and also like a head cold. My nose felt stuffy, I was sneezing a lot, and my eyeballs felt as if they were burning. I settled into class with a stash of tissues in case the sneezing commenced or my nose started running. The heat felt good, and by the end of pranayama breathing, my head felt clear. As class progressed, my head felt hot and feverish at times. I didn't kill myself or work extra hard, so it wasn't bad. My full locust posture felt weak and pathetic, but all in all, I am pleased that I made through class. The hot room and the yoga seem to have cured me of most of the head congestion.

Today, however, my stomach was very upset, and I felt a little congestion in the lungs. I was tired, dehydrated, and cranky, but I didn't want to miss class. I drank an electrolyte drink and postponed going to the studio until the last class, in the hopes that my stomach would settle by then. It was a very uncomfortable class, as my stomach just plain hurt during most of it. The room was hot--over 108--and very humid, and people were dropping like flies toward the end of standing series. I sat out one set of triangle, myself, which makes me feel a little disappointed in myself. Yet again, I'm glad to have gotten through class and done as much I did.

This morning, as I drove past a Lululemon store, I saw a sign in their window that said something like, "It takes just 21 days to form a habit." Thursday will be the 21st day of the challenge, so maybe going to yoga every day will be fully ingrained in me then! I really felt like staying home these past 2 days, but I want to succeed in this challenge. I'm feeling so determined right now.

These are the changes that I've noticed so far:

--Many of my postures show signs of improvement. I am happiest about keeping my hips positioned better for standing bow and for balancing stick. I've always been "good" on one side and "bad" on the other in those poses, but now I am gradually evening out. I'm also ecstatic to have found better form in bow pose. It used to hurt my knee so much that I was afraid to even try it. One of my teachers worked with me after class to help me figure it out.

--I don't feel so strained and struggling. I am slowly, slowly learning to ease into postures, to use my breath more and to stop fighting my way into a pose.

--I don't feel uncomfortable from the heat anymore. After practicing for so long, I'd more or less given up the idea of that ever happening, but since early in this challenge, it's become a regular thing for me. Sonya says it's because I am breathing more efficiently.

--Most of the time, my water consumption and thirst are much lower than they used to be.

--I'm still a busy-body, checking out other people's outfits, asana, and expressions, but I am also learning to spend more of the class time focusing on my practice. And along with that, I mean learning that focusing on myself and focusing on my practice are separate things.

Monday, January 18, 2010


My Friday double had me tuckered out, and I slept long and hard that night. I worried about my Saturday class, thinking that I'd suffer from fatigue after doing a double. Saturday was just fine, though. Class was taught by a teacher who jokes a lot but encourages us. The 90 minutes flew by. I was a little wobbly in some balancing postures, but I felt fine, did all of the postures, and managed to keep my water consumption during class to a minimum.

The yoga truck drove into town on Sunday. I wasn't run over, and I wasn't even really truly hit by it, but the bumper did graze up against me. In awkward pose, my quadriceps felt as if some sort of slow-drying cement had been poured between the muscle fibers. I didn't feel pain, and I didn't feel weakness or strain, but it seemed to require more effort to make those leg muscles work. Other than that, it was a pretty good class.

I am off to evening class tonight. On Monday nights, I clean the studio after the last class. In exchange, I get unlimited yoga classes at a drastic discount. I'm so grateful for this opportunity. I wouldn't otherwise be able to afford unlimited yoga. I'm hoping to write in greater detail tonight about some thoughts and observations I've had about the challenge.

Friday, January 15, 2010

16 Classes in 15 Days!

I did a double today! One in the bank! This is only the second time ever that I've done two classes in one day, so it's kind of a big deal to me.

It was great! I took a 4:30 PM class and just stayed on for the 6:30 PM class as well. I felt really good after the first class, had a surge of energy toward the end, and just decided to see how I'd fare in a second class. I honestly thought I'd end up hanging out in savasana a lot, but that didn't happen. I got a little dizzy and light headed in the standing series and ended up sitting out one set of standing bow-pulling pose, but otherwise did all of the postures and feel fantastic. A little more tired than usual, perhaps, but mostly just fantastic!

I love Bikram yoga.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Without Excuse

And another 2 classes in the bag.

I practiced good yoga yesterday, the 4:30 afternoon class. I felt great and strong, during and after class. Everything was beautiful. I had to rush off to a meeting at 7PM and wasn't home 'til almost 10. We ate a light late dinner, went to bed, and I was still just buzzing with energy, unable to sleep. I read for a bit, and suddenly felt ravenously hungry. I got up at 1:30 AM and ate two bowls of granola! I was just starving. I drank more water too; I was also feeling very thirsty. It must have been way after 2 when I finally slept, and once T got up at 6:30, I was more or less awake for the day, though I lingered in bed for another hour.

As it happens, today I needed to get to a morning class in order to make it to class at all. I really didn't have a lot of time to hydrate more, but I thought that since I'd had plenty of water last night, I might be okay.

Nah. Class sucked. Or my experience of class today sucked. I'm a wimp about morning classes anyway. And the whole water/electrolyte thing was out of whack for me. I was not on my proper (ahem) schedule, so I was feeling some intestinal discomfort, if you catch my drift. The room didn't feel hot, yet there seemed to be no air flow at all. I spent the whole 90 minutes nauseated and trying to focus on anything other than how my guts were feeling.

Everyone jokes that Bikram's Torture Chamber is Hell, because, you know, it's hot in there. Sartre said, "Hell is other people." Well, Hell was other people in my class this morning. Or another person.

Damn it, I let somebody steal my peace. And I was doing a pretty good job of peace-stealing all on my own, with my fixations on my guts and my water bottle and my thirst and my nausea.

Just a couple of days ago, That Girl was in another class with me. That Girl was on the other side of the room, but I heard her burst into tears during class. She spent a good deal of it sobbing in savasana. In that class, I felt like giving her a hug, even though I don't know her at all. I've felt that kind of intense emotional release in yoga class myself.

After that class, a few of us were lingering in the lobby, chatting, and a guy who'd been right in front of That Girl started bitching about her, "Sobbing and moaning and groaning! Why didn't the teacher tell her to leave? What a distraction! I couldn't stand it!" I felt he was being a little insensitive, so I kind of lobbed out a few comments about not letting anyone steal your peace, but none of it was really any of my business--That Girl's sobs, the teacher's response, the dude's reaction. Whatevs, people.

Well, today, That Girl was right behind me in class. And by the time we hit standing bow-pulling pose, the wailing had begun. It was louder and more continuous today. It was a vocal sort of crying, no snuffling or tears. The instructor was one of our young ladies who is fresh out of teacher training and a rather shy person. She finally walked back to sobbing That Girl and whispered, "Are you okay?" That Girl's crying stopped abruptly, like she's thrown a switch. She said loudly, in a tone that managed to combine nonchalance with a hint of indignation, "Sure. I'm just having a lot of emotional release. That's why I come here."

"Um, I'm with you, Insensitive Dude," I thought. "They gotta make her stop."

The poor teacher more or less just said, "oh," and went on with class. My mind was off and running in my own personal Hell of annoyance, blame, impatience, and insensitivity. And I was already focusing too much attention on my physical discomforts and not enough on my breath or my asana. Bah! I let my thoughts suck away my energy.

I gave up. I sat out camel and rabbit. I couldn't bear the thought of them, what with the nausea and all. I couldn't bear being in the room, what with That Girl, hamming it up back there.

I continued to silently hate on That Girl in the dressing room, where she talked loudly on her cell phone, but you know what? I really don't ever want to let myself think or feel that way again.

My original response to the situation in class a few days ago is the way I want to think about such things: It's really not my business--other people's behavior, no matter how distracting; how the teachers respond to other students; what the rest of the class thinks of noise in class. I am there to practice yoga. I can only control me and my own response. Getting annoyed and blame-y doesn't help in any way. It hurts. It wastes my energy, and on some level, even if I think I'm not showing it outwardly, I'm putting out a negative vibe.

I'll quote Sartre out of context, again: "We are left alone, without excuse." That's me, after class. I had a bad time at yoga class today, but no matter what happened there, my practice is mine alone, and I am without excuse.

I gotta take this yoga bull by the horns and get serious. No distractions.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Two more down, 88 to go...

Hey, this consecutive classes deal really works! I am generally feeling better physically, in spite of the occasional tired muscle or light strain. In my normal day-to-day activities, I feel more relaxed, my joints feel looser, with better range of motion, and I am more energized.

It's been looong time since yoga made me feel this good. I am finally hitting my stride, feeling replenished by yoga and not depleted. I averaged 4 classes/week in 2009, and that felt like a lot of yoga to me, especially when I was working full-time and going to school part time. I expected to see some differences from practicing more frequently, but frankly, I feared that it might really suck the life out of me, leave me really exhausted. In the past, I've often told myself it was okay to skip yoga because I needed the rest and recuperation. I guess that's not always the case!

I have no earth-shattering insights or break-throughs to report. I figured out my knee alignment issue in floor bow, but the key to half-locust still eludes me. All in all, I feel like my practice is coming along quite nicely!

One of my instructors is fon of saying that Bikram Yoga never gets easy, but it does get better. Yup.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Day 10

Somehow, it just keeps happening: I plan to go to a morning yoga class, but something else comes up, I postpone class 'til afternoon, then something else comes up, and I find myself attending the evening class! I dashed into class last night at the very last minute.

It's funny, but for most of the challenge, so far, the classes I've attended were taught by new or new-to-me teachers. Last night, I got one of my favorite teachers, one of the first teachers I had at this studio. He's tough but inspiring. He pushes you, but does it kindly. It was nice to be in his class last night.

I can't get over the fact that I no longer feel too hot in class. I'm somehow maintaining my energy and no longer feeling depleted during and after class.

I'm a very sweaty yogi. Often, before we finish pranayama breathing, I find myself standing in a puddle of sweat. Sometimes, I'll glance at my neighbors and notice people who seem to have only the merest hint of perspiration even by the end of class, their hair and most of their costume dry. It's funny how differently our bodies handle heat. Sweating so heavily has often made me feel drained. Whenever I've attended a class with a slightly lower temperature, I've felt more energetic. It's only in the last few weeks that I have been to hot, super-sweaty classes and felt strong throughout. I can't get over how good this feels, what a victory it seems.

I tried my hip adjustment in standing bow-pulling pose, and while I wobbled and had to work very hard to keep my balance, the hip adjustment gave me solid alignment.

Last night, half locust just happened right. I can't really pinpoint what the difference is, but some days both legs just float up high, and other times, I just lift at a wrong angle or using the wrong parts of my back and it's all I can do to keep the legs up just a bit. Hmph. I have an ongoing issue with floor bow too. If I don't have my legs at the proper angle, I feel pain in my left knee on lift-off. It seems so hit and miss--as if I'm just chugging along there, and one day or one set is just right and another day or set is just effed up. I want to work on observing myself in both of these postures, to try to identify the problems more precisely.

I am really psyched to have some specific things to work on, focus on, look for and strive for in my practice. Last year, there were plenty of times that my practice felt stagnant. I would attend class, slog through it, dying to get it over with. It felt like doing penance. One of our teachers often jokes during triangle, "the profile of your face miserable in the mirror," and miserable is a pretty good word to describe some of my yoga classes. I just got stuck. I was mired in how difficult it can be, and I got so consumed by the hard parts that I couldn't do anything more than endure. I know that we will all have days like that, but I had a couple of months like that. It's a relief to know that I can do more than just endure class, that I can make progress, refine my asana, my breathing, and my entire practice. I can focus on progress and on the things that feel good. I can enjoy it.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Day 9--With a Little Help From My Friends

Because of an unexpected visit from out-of-town relatives, I didn't make it to morning class or the early afternoon class. I had to rush to get to 6:30 PM class. I am feeling achy in my ligaments and tendons, and I decided to focus on breath and not push too hard in deep stretches, as well as working on bringing more grace and ease to the postures.

It turned out to be a really fun class. The teacher had some amazing advice for alignment and corrections for a few students. I think that I can really improve my standing bow pulling pose because of her comments to another student. Like a lot of people, I do one side of this posture better than the other. I couldn't figure out why it was so hard to keep my right foot directly above my head. With the left foot, it just stays in line without any special effort. Teacher suggested not trying to kick as high unless the hips were down lower. I'm not sure that I am saying this in a way that makes sense, but with her demonstration of the pose, it totally made sense. Next time I notice the foot drifting off center, I want to move my focus to hip alignment instead of trying to yank my foot and leg into place by force (and then wonder why my tendons and ligaments feel sore).

The best part of class, though, was full locust. We were a little crowded together, and Sharon was postitioned so that her extended arm crossed at my ankles. When we lifted up into full locust, we bumped each other, glanced at each other in the mirror, and then she put her arm uner my ankles and lifted my legs up, way up, higher than I'd ever gotten them on my own. I was surprised, and let out a little exclamation, "oh!" We both started giggling. It was just fun! I really have to struggle to get my legs higher in that pose, and the temporary boost--a light push, no strain--made me aware of what a fuller expression of this asana would feel like. It made me happy. Yoga makes me happy. The challenge is already working its magic and teaching me things and changing my practice. I can't wait to see what it'll be like as the challenge progresses!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Striving for Grace

I can't believe that we've already finished more than a week of the challenge!

I had a good class tonight. I didn't think about heat or sweat or drinking water. Many of the postures were a bit of a struggle, but I felt good throughout the class. No dizzy feeling, no excessive thirst, no feeling unbearably hot. Maybe I am finally figuring out the right hydration and electrolyte thing.

The lady next to me whimpered like a puppy during half-locust.

Our state Yoga Asana Championship is tomorrow, and one of the competitors demonstrated her set. It included an incredibly beautiful and graceful standing splits. She posesses natural flexibility, but it is her long-term, dedicated practice that allows her to execute the posture with such grace and stillness.

I decided that one of my new goals for the Challenge is to focus on bringing more grace to my practice. I've tried to muscle my way into many a posture, grunting audibly as I kick out in standing head to knee, grimacing through awkward pose, and even, I'm sure, whimpering at some point. I am finally getting a little glimpse of what the instructors mean when they talk about ease and stillness. You can learn a lot by watching an accomplished yogini or yogi.

Which is why I am so dismayed to have encountered some Bikram-bashers complaining about the Asana Championship. At a non-Bikram style yoga class that I taught today, a gentleman mentioned that he'd seen news about this competition, and another student launched into an indignant diatribe about how competitions are un-yoga-like, not spiritual, etc. I wish that I had been prepared with a better response. Sometimes I truly hate straddling two yoga worlds. I told the class that asana competitions have been held in India for a very long time, and also that people have squabbled for centuries about what yoga is and isn't. The indignant lady said, "Oh, yes, and isn't that funny, because 'yoga' means 'union.'"

Well, yes.

I think that the Championships raise awareness about yoga. I think the Championships are inspiring, especially to kids and to yoga students. I would think that anybody who loves yoga or sees its benefits would be happy to see yoga promoted and made visible. If you've noticed what a stressed-out, unhealthy, increasingly obese and sedentary nation we are becoming, I would think that you'd love to see attention drawn to an activity that can calm the mind, refresh us, heal us, and keep us strong.

I don' t get what's so objectionable to the detractors. Do these people hate spelling bees too? They make a competition out of learning to spell, and some kids have more natural aptitude than others, but nobody gets really far in the spelling bee without hard work. Does this process somehow demean kids who are innocently and nobly engaged in learning to spell and write?

I guess you can't please everybody, huh?

I probably ought to try to extend that focus on stillness and grace to what goes on in my head, the things that annoy me. "Let no one steal your peace."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Detoxing, Releasing, and Moving Forward!

I didn't expect to experience anything very dramatic or noticeable so soon in the challenge, but I feel as if I am really releasing some tension, some pent-up emotional stuff. I'm also seeing mild signs of physical detoxing.

After Day 4, ( the pukey day), I came home, drank juice and water, ate a nice light dinner with lots of fresh veggies in it, and settled down for the night. But I could not sleep. And then I found myself on a bit of a crying jag. I was awake for most of the night, tearful and uncomfortable, but after 2 or 3 hours of sleep, when I had to drag myself out of bed, I felt calm and weirdly refreshed. I think that I've been carrying around a lot of old stress and worry, and I was finally ready to let go of these things.

I taught a fitness class for seniors in the morning, and in the afternoon, I went to 4:30 Bikram class. Our teacher was a woman who mainly teaches elsewhere in town. I'd taken one class from her before. She has a great, solid grasp of dialogue and challenged us without any shaming or ridicule. It was a hard but good class. I hydrated well beforehand, and I again found that I didn't need to drink as much water as I used to during class. In final savasana, I had an odd sensation of heat in my face and head, as if I might be running a fever, but the feeling passed quickly. When I got home, I was ravenously hungry, and I ate too much soup. I had juice, some Emergen-C, and water as well, and I felt like I might burst from all the liquid inside of me.

Got to sleep early that night--like 9:00. I slept like a log, and I slept a full 12 hours. When I woke up, I had a very stuffy nose, very much like an allergy. Worried for a bit that I was coming down with something, but all of the snotty/stuffy thing went away quickly and didn't come back. I decided it was a little more detoxing.

Taught an afternoon yoga class at a senior citizen's housing complex, and I was really happy with class. It's a weekly class at this facility, and I just started teaching there in December. One lady had been taught pranayama breathing, but other than that, none of the participants had ever done any yoga. They are getting more sure of themselves, willing to challenge themselves a little in some balancing postures. It's so gratifying to see people making progress and enjoying the class.

My Wednesday practice, at 4:30, felt great. I had another almost-new-to-me teacher, someone who'd taught at our studio regularly in the past but had been away for several months. It was probably about the third or fourth class I'd ever taken from her. She killed us, but I was feeling rested and ready for it. She kept us in balancing stick for almost twenty seconds each time, and she kept the room very hot. I did all of the postures, and I didn't feel the need to drink much water. If I keep going at this rate, I may be able to take a class from Mary Jarvis someday (She's one of Bikram's senior instructors; I've been told that she doesn't like to see people drink any water during class). Went home to dinner, hydration, and sleep.

All was well until early this morning. I woke up at about 3:30 AM and slept only in fits and starts until 8. I was forgetfully lolling around, reading in bed, thinking to myself that I had nowhere to be until 2PM, so I might as well relax. My boyfriend brought me breakfast in bed--a veggie omelet and potatoes with coffee, and I didn't eat a lot of it, but I ate some. By then it was
well after 10AM.

And I suddenly remembered that I really had to go to 11:30AM class if I was going to go at all today. I had meetings and teaching from 2 to 6 PM, and they were on the other side of town. I could try to get from the West side of town all the way to my studio between 6 and 6:30, but traffic can be unpredictable at that time of day. Past experience says that my chances of getting there on time are only 50/50 at best.

So I leapt out of bed, dressed and packed my stuff. Off to yoga. I was very worried about the food in my stomach and the probability of nausea. The teacher was a new graduate, and I've never had a class from her. For whatever reason, the room was much much cooler than normal. She even opened the window for an extended period. It was quite serendipitous--a nice cool room on the day I was most likely to feel nauseated in the heat. I made it through class just fine, but I kind of feel like we cheated.

My only worry right now is that I've been noticing a very slight discomfort in what I believe is my right medial collateral ligament. It feels strained whenever I catch myself without a properly contracted quadriceps during any 'lock the knee' activity, and it feels strained during head to the right knee position. From past experience, I know that being super aware of it, contracting the quads like a mofo, and not pushing or straining it will most likely lead to healing fairly quickly.

I've been enjoying soaking in a tub with lavender and epsom salts too.

My big question is, how do people with normal jobs ever manage to do something like this challenge? I feel as if it takes up so much time and energy! I hope that by the end of the challenge, doing yoga will seem like a routine maintenance activity, like brushing my teeth. Right now, it fills my thoughts constantly--time, transportation, eating soon enough but not too early, trying to find that perfect proper balance of hydration, getting the laundry dealt with, etc. I know that it will become more of a routine, and boy, am I ever looking forward to that!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Day Four: A Regurgitation, so to speak.

I went to the 6:30 PM class tonight. Although I have been trying to gradually work my way towards attending earlier classes, I had a busy day filled with work and errands, so class was the last obligation of the day. I was running late, so once again, no cool spot for me. I set up my mat and towel in the hot zone.

Before class started, I was pleased to see Sonya, my 101 Challenge buddy, was practicing right next to me. In spite of my attempts to focus on myself, I look around the room, like the busy-body that I am. My head fills with random shallow thoughts (oh my god, is that girl wearing men's Y-front undies for shorts? Wow, Jane sure has lost weight! She looks great. Who is that guy? Blah, blah, blah). But we began our breathing exercise, and my mind slowed down and stayed focused

For a bit.

As soon as we started half-moon, I couldn't help but notice that Sonya and I were in the midst of the super-yogis...a couple of teachers, a girl who used to be a nationally ranked gymnast, as well as two people who take the Advanced class and participate in Asana competitions. I've made so much progress with my half-moon posture, and I am usually so proud of that. Then I looked in the mirror and started comparing myself to the super-yogis, and I felt so...inadequate. And a little foolish for thinking that my half-moon was so bad-ass. One thought that entered my mind and made me afraid was, "How on earth can I ever aspire to attend Teacher Training? If I go, everyone there is gonna be like these guys--way better than me."


Well, I just had to tune out all that negativity and try to focus on myself. I'm improving, doing better than I used to, so I am winning the only competition that matters, the competition with myself. I can't resolve feeling inadequate in the middle of class, so I tried to just focus on my practice and to cultivate stillness.

I struggled a lot today to reduce the amount of fidgeting and fussing. No rearranging my top or my towel. Minimal hairdo adjustments (that's a tough one for me. I have yet to find the perfect solution to keeping my hair back and under control for the full 90 minutes). I was wearing a racer-back tank, and there was an ungodly itch right in the middle of the t-back, between my shoulder blades, in a spot I might not have been able to reach even if I wanted to scratch. But cultivating stillness helped a lot. I felt calm, still, relaxed in standing head to knee pose. It's always very challenging for me, and that challenge often makes me tense, trying too hard. It was lovely to just balance and be still. A new sensation, that stillness.

I was intent upon doing all of the postures, and I did so today. I drank less than half of my liter of water, even though it was very humid again today, and I was perspiring very heavily. I stayed resting in final savasana forever. I was lying there letting my mind just empty out, and suddenly I noticed that everyone else was gone. Got up, went into the lobby, chatted with Sonya for a bit, then went to the locker room. I drank a little more of my water, got into the shower, and then...

I threw up.

Geez. I don't know what brought it on. I didn't guzzle the water, and I drank far less than usual.
The 'vomit' was completely clear, just water. A teacher once told me that when people vomit after or during class, it's usually a detoxing response to too many stress hormones in the bloodstream. I didn't feel particularly stressed, so I don't know what to make of it. I came home and drank some delicious fresh organic juice, and I feel fine.

Four classes in the bag, ninety-seven to go...

Day 3--Observations

Yesterday's class was relatively small--27 people. On Saturday, there were more than 40 people in my class, and DSOTM class had 70!

So you'd think it would've been spacious and cool, but no such luck. Our studio has some small variations in heat and humidity from day to day, class to class, and there are parts of the room that are cooler than other areas, little regions with better air flow. It's kind of hilarious to see how quickly students find the cooler, airy places. People run in before they're even out of their street clothes to slap their mat down and claim a "good" spot. I've even seen little squabbles ensue, eg: "Did you move my mat? Well, somebody moved it; it was right where yours is now!"

So, when I got to class, there were about 15 mats in the 'cool' parts of the room, practically on top of one another. The rest of the room was sparsely occupied. I went to the hot side, not entirely willingly. If there's a cool spot open, usually, I'll take it.

I had a very sweaty practice! I didn't feel too hot, but I perspired much more heavily than usual. I think that the humidity was high. I'd done a good job of hydrating and made sure to get my electrolytes earlier in the day, but I ended up drinking the entire contents of my 1 liter water bottle during class, which is something I almost never do. I just felt parched and depleted! I felt as if I needed that water!

But of course, all of that liquid sloshing around in my stomach made me feel awful and I sat out part of camel and was just generally hating class because of it. Bleah!

Good things about Day 3: Standing head to knee continues to show improvement. I've definitely made some progress with this posture. My half-moon is better and easier all of the time. I am able to get through standing series without getting too dizzy, or at least, to not give into the fear I feel when I feel a little dizzy. I saw my 101 Challenge buddy, whom I will call Sonya, at class, which was heartening. I hadn't seen her on Days 1 & 2, and I was worried that she wasn't doing the challenge after all. That's not the case, and it's really nice to have a peer with whom to do the challenge.

Today, I'm gonna focus on focus! I want to concentrate on my asana, stay focused, and try to avoid being distracted in any way.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


I was wide awake 'til at least 2AM. Then I slept deeply, had vivid, amazing, complicated dreams. I woke up around 9:30 because T was up, getting dressed to take the dog out. I rolled over and fell asleep again, dreamed more dreams and woke up at the shockingly late time of 12:30PM.

I dunno--I feel as if maybe I needed the sleep. It's been very difficult for me to maintain a consistent bedtime over holidays. And I took our dog out for an extra extra long walk yesterday, before my yoga class, much longer than usual. Because of rain, cold, and/or snow, I've been keeping the dog's walks to a minimum. Yesterday was beautiful, so we meandered through the neighborhood and the park for almost 3 hours on our afternoon walk.

Energy levels--I have a really hard time figuring out how much of my exhaustion and tiredness is truly physical and what is an emotional or mental exhaustion. I've had some heavy duty stress to deal with. My boyfriend, T, has a chronic, life-threatening illness, and the last two years have been really rough ones. (Right now, his health is better every day, and he keeps saying that he will join me at Bikram yoga class sometime soon).

Yoga definitely helps me to manage stress, but I do feel as if prolonged stress in my life has depleted me. Stress upsets and can deplete the adrenal glands, and, as luck would have it, I'm approaching the age where a woman's adrenals are given the added burden of taking over some hormonal production duties for the ovaries.

It makes sense that I'd be more tired more often, given my age and circumstances.

Last year, I cried at yoga class more times than I can count. I often find my eyes filling with tears as I rest in final savasana. Yoga seems to wring out my sorrow, wring out my tears and worries. It's a life saver.

The challenge is good for me because I am going to get a chance, daily, to let go of all that's been troubling me. I am going to get a chance, daily, to build more health in my body, to replenish every nook and cranny of my body with fresh blood, fresh oxygen. I get a chance every day to breathe a little deeper, a little slower, a little smoother, to get my body used to the relaxation response and less dependent on the old fight-or-flight.

Every day, yoga gives us the chance to begin again, and I am so grateful for that.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

2 down, 99 to go!

Well, I s'pose it's TMI, but I started my period, like, 15 minutes before class today. I felt rather lethargic, sleepy, foggy-brained all day, and for some reason, I didn't feel like eating anything. So I went off to a 4:30 class without eating at all, all day. I had coffee in the morning and fresh juice in the afternoon, and water, water, water.

Class was crowded! New year's resolution crowd, you know. I couldn't see myself in the mirror for most of class. Nothing earth-shattering to report today. I did all of the postures, nothing felt super amazing, nothing was awful or hard, and class seemed to fly by quickly.

Ho hum.

Yoga In the Shadows

One of the things that I like best about Bikram yoga is that it can be so transforming, on so many levels. Bikram's series of postures is so well designed that the average person can feel changes in their health almost immediately. Yoga can heal us, physically, emotionally, and mentally.

A facebook friend sent me the trailer for this film that explores the power of yoga to help people heal from trauma and addictions. This is an independent documentary film, and it could use all of the support and encouragement it can get. If anybody out there is reading this blog, please take a look at the film's website and trailer:

If you're on facebook, become a fb fan to raise awareness and show your support. Spread the word about this film. It has the potential to raise national awareness about the healing power of yoga.

Friday, January 1, 2010

"Breathe in the air/Don't be afraid to care.."

I'm home from my first Bikram class of 2010, and it was fantastic!

I had planned to get up fairly early, but I hit 'snooze' a couple of times and rolled outta bed less than 2 hours before I was due at the yoga studio. I felt huge, bloated, and PMS-y. Bleah. Not my favorite state in which to do yoga, but what can you do? It was a beautiful, sunny morning, and I'm glad that it didn't rain, snow, or freeze while I was out with my dog. In spite of doing a lot of yoga, I am still addicted to coffee, so I had a cup of the stuff, along with a couple of big glasses of water before I headed out for the studio.

The Dark Side of the Moon class was really a surreal experience. So much stuff went on, and I experienced so many different emotions that I can't begin to describe it all.

With the large number of people practicing today, there was a lot of readjusting of towels and mats, fidgeting, and giggling before class. Then one of the teachers announced that R, a regular student at our studio, was going to say a few words. R got up and said a few words about the year's end and the new year, saying good-bye to the past and being open to the present. Then she told us of the loss her family suffered last year: a family member was killed in Afghanistan while serving in the US military. She recited a poem and dedicated it to him. I cried. And I kept thinking of a few other people who passed on last year.

And then our teacher got up in the front of the room. For this, our DSOTM class, the teacher did the postures with us and called out minimal bits of dialogue ("change!"). It was easy to time the pranayama with the beat of the music. I was standing near a speaker, and when the music began, it seemed so loud, I thought I might be sick. It wasn't horribly loud, but I just get all sensitive and vulnerable to attacks of nausea in the yoga room. But somehow, even before we finished our first set of pranayama, the volume seemed just right to me.

In spite of feeling a little dehydrated, pre-menstrual and uncomfortable at the start of class, I had a kick-ass practice today. Standing head-to-knee is probably my worst posture. Today, I managed to kick out for almost the full amount of time. Normally, I only manage to kick out for a bit with the right leg and hardly at all with the left. Today I did both, for at least 80% of the posture's allotted time. A first for me. And I had one of best days ever with awkward pose too.

I'm not an old stoner, and I've never really listened to Pink Floyd a whole lot, so I feel like a total dork saying this, but it was just really amazing how fitting the lyrics and timing of the album are to the practice. "Breathe in the air/don't be afraid to care..." We put our palms up and said "Mama give me money!" just as the cash register bell began for the song, "Money," and everyone laughed. During "Us and Them," we were always bending down exactly as the word 'down' was being sung.

I'm quite sure that these lyrics of "Brain Damage" weren't written to mean anything of the sort, but they seemed like an ode to Bikram yoga during class:

You make me change.
You re-arrange me 'til I'm sane.
You lock the door
And throw away the key.
There's something in my head
And it's not me.

So the album finished at the end of standing series. We had more music for floor series--Cat Power, a few Beatles songs, Earth,Wind & Fire singing 'Shining Star,' a few things I've already forgotten, and a couple of Bob Marley tunes to finish it up.

I'm a total dork, but lifting up into bow pose while Paul McCartney sang, "All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise," brought tears to my eyes. We all clapped along to a couple of songs while we shoulda been resting in savasana. Many people started singing along at various times. It was a trip. I laughed, I cried, I cheered. Cripes.

We did kapalabhati breathing to 'Exodus.' Here's my last "oh, wow, man!" dork-out about our stoner-music yoga day:

Open your eyes and look within.
Are you satisfied with the life you're living?

Move! Move! Move!

Dude, is every song really about yoga, or what?

I feel great right now, and I am really really really looking forward to the next 100 days.